French president faces biggest test yet over labor reform

French President Emmanuel Macron faces his biggest test yet with Thursday’s release of a divisive pro-business labor reform that he hopes will secure his legacy and revolutionize the way the French work.

But the high-stakes move comes just as his popularity is sinking, and unions and political opponents have already called for street protests and strikes in what could be an unusually hot autumn.

It was the most emblematic campaign promise of Macron, elected in May on a centrist, pro-business platform. But opponents fear it will weaken hard-won worker protections that have become globally synonymous with the much-envied French lifestyle.

Foreign investors and France’s European neighbors are watching Macron’s plan closely — almost as closely as the French workers it will directly affect. France is the No. 2 economy in the eurozone, but its chronic 10-percent unemployment has long weighed on the region’s growth.

The labor overhaul is the central pillar in Macron’s promises to create jobs and make his country more globally competitive after repeated failed efforts at reform.

“The job market doesn’t work correctly and the rules are not adapted to an open world where things are moving fast,” Macron said last week during a visit to Austria.

The details of the plan, to be disclosed Thursday in a list of decrees, will determine how far the reform will change the country’s stringent labor rules.

One measure is expected to cap the financial penalty for companies sued for firing employees.

Other changes aim at simplifying negotiations process between employers and employees.

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